I have always looked at the world through my grandmas’ eyes. I’m the only blue-eyed child of my brown-eyed parents. But my grandmas all had blue eyes.
You can’t tell that any of us are blue-eyed in these black-and-white photos, but trust me – our eyes are all blue.
When I was in high school or college I remember my dad showing me The Wenger Book. “My dad’s in here, but I’m not,” he told me. That was my first sip, and just goes to show you that like alcoholism, genealogy addiction is a genetic predisposition. My Mennonite ancestors have been recording every marriage, every birth, every death, every departure from the faith, since 1727.
But that first taste of pure genealogy didn’t hook me. Oh no. Even though my own father tried to tempt me, through the years, with stories about Grandma Hammond’s farm, I stayed in my own century.
Daddy knew, though. He recalled that when I was very, very young, he drove me past Grandma Hammond’s old place and I looked at him and said, “I think I was born in the wrong century.”
“Flossie’s got the Wenger Book,” Dad would remind me from time-to-time. “She keeps the genealogy for our line.” I would ask him again who Flossie is, and how she’s related to me, but I never tried to contact her.
In 1977, ABC aired the miniseries, Roots. I’m not generally one to watch much TV, but I watched every second of that show!
After the final episode, I called each of my oldest living relatives and asked for the names of their parents. I drew out a family tree with the info that they gave me. The original copy that I wrote that day got lost, but it looked something like this:
Well, now, that was intoxicating! Aunt Sissy told me that her grandpa was a son of Kaisar Wilhelm! She claimed to have seen a picture of him “on a high horse.” She said he married a commoner and was disowned. So he came to America.
When I quizzed the rest of my great-aunts, they all said, “Oh, Sis tells that to everybody.” When I asked my mom, she said she had never heard such a thing. (Mom was lying. Wait till you get to the end of the story ;-))
So, my husband went around telling people that I descended from Royalty, and I followed behind denying it; and I tucked the original Family Tree into a book or something, and I don’t know where it is anymore.
Then, on July 28, 2003, I was using AOL to check my emails, and they put up a banner ad that said, “Where were your ancestors in 1930? Free look at the 1930 U.S. Census.”
I had never followed a link before, but I typed in the name of my great-grandma, and up popped a Census page!
My great-grandma was already a widow, and taking in Lodgers. My grandma Wilma was 18 years old and still living at home. And the man she would eventually marry was one of the Lodgers!
I used this census image to start a little family tree on ancestry.com, filling in the names of all the people that I knew.
And then I called my mom, to ask her, “Did you know that your mother and dad lived together before they were married?”
I was intoxicated again, but I still wasn’t hooked. I may have been genetically pre-disposed to genealogy addiction, but it was a stranger who entered my life a few days later that pushed me over the abyss.
I signed on to AOL, and heard the familiar, “You’ve got mail!”
Somebody named Adrienne said she had found my little “Hortense Mae White” tree on the internet. Adrienne claimed that Hortense Mae White was her aunt. She said she was very excited to find me, and would I please write her back.
She said her grandfather, Jacob White, was Hortense’s brother.
She said she had already found one of my cousins – Rob – on Cousin Connect.
I called my mom. I had never known anybody to call my cousin Bob by the name of “Rob”, so I thought there was something fishy about this Adrienne.
Mom told me, “Bob is Roy’s son. But Rob is Carl’s son. You don’t know him. He moved back East. And yes, grandma did have a brother Jake.”
So I wrote Adrienne back. Apparently she was hovering over her keyboard waiting for me to respond. (Adrienne is SO intense!)
She immediately rapid-fired a succession of emails with picture attachments.
I had never opened an email attachment in my life! I was so scared my computer would catch a virus, and yet I was terribly curious what this Adrienne character was sending me.
So I held my breath. And clicked.
Slowly this image appeared:
It was a photo identical to one my grandpa had given me when my grandma Wilma died. On the back of my copy of the photo, my grandpa had written, “Wilma’s uncle Albert.”
So then I knew that Adrienne really was my cousin.
Adrienne put me in touch with cousin Rob.
Rob told me that Aunt Sissy had given him all the details on the Woodrick side back in the 1960s.
Since Rob was much older than I, Aunt Sissy had not found it necessary to sanitize the Kaisar Wilhelm connection.
Turns out great-great-great grandpa was the illegitimate son of Kaisar Wilhelm.
I called my mom.
“Oh, I knew that,” she said.
Adrienne and I are now the best of friends, and we have had many adventures together in the past decade. My mother (grr) is not particularly helpful. She feigns disinterest. When I ask her things, she says, “Oh. I don’t know.” When I find the answers on my own, Mom says, “Oh. I knew that.” Sometimes, some times, at that point she will begin to tell me stories …
“Why would you want to know that?” is her usual response, though. She’s a dear woman. I love her with all my heart.
“Oh those Mennonites of your dad’s. They HAD to keep track of their genealogy you know. And I know why! To keep from marrying their first cousins!”
… Oh, Mom. If you only knew what I know now in YOUR tree …
to be continued